Celebrating The Season

When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, I wished for a white Christmas and hoped the snow, with periodic additions of fresh whiteness, would stick around until spring. While my wish was never completely realized, being 150 miles north of where I live now, winter was a more satisfying if not tiring experience.

(Images may be clicked on for a better view)

The low December light pierces the open canopy revealing patterns in leaves and the geometry of trees and river.

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A few days ago, we woke up to a light covering of white. We rushed down to our local city park before too many foot steps marred it’s beauty. Now, despite colder temperatures, the snow is mostly gone, the victim of wind and sublimation. Winters are like that in central Ohio. Cold temperatures, when they come, often leave the dry, naked, and shivering landscape wishing for a warm white blanket. But while not a paradise for lovers of snow, for those willing to venture out and look carefully, this time of year provides an opportunity to enjoy a subtle beauty and be entertained by creatures making this place their winter home.

With snow, the forms of water and trees becomes sublime.

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It was very faint but unmistakable. You know how woodpeckers can be. Looking up into branches in the adjacent woods, it seemed hopeless. How about just looking for dead branches  .   .   .

Working on a warm winter home?

A female Downy works away.

. . . as the male goofs off on a nearby branch.

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Quiet early winter morning along the Scioto.

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One advantage to living in an area subject to cold temperatures, but with little snow, is that ice is free to express itself.

Small icicles and patterns in ice.

Interesting shapes form as river levels recede, (Donna).

Near the river, a small frozen pool, and solstice ice.

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In the summer we don’t notice as many Eastern Bluebirds, a gift of the colder months?

Male Eastern Bluebird, (Donna).

Taking flight.

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Not far from their downriver nest, Bald Eagles are seen more often along the reservoir this time of year.

Perched across the reservoir and too far away for a really good shot..

Doing it’s best to avoid a photograph.

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At river’s edge, the roots of a sycamore struggle to maintain their hold.

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With the reservoir frozen, a pair of Hooded Mergansers were spotted in the open water of the river just below the dam. Eventually, if the reservoir stays ice covered, they will be joined by Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers, and other waterfowl not commonly seen in the area.

Hooded Mergansers on the Scioto River.

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These images were taken before realizing that the White-breasted Nuthatch it was eating lichen. An unexpected revelation.

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A quick look through the binoculars revealed it to be a Mockingbird which was a real treat as we couldn’t remember the last time one was seen in the park   .   .   .  then, one very average photo, and it was gone.

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There are a countless number of American Robins in the park this time of year. They are everywhere, and with their antics provide endless entertainment.

***, (Donna).

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Brown Creepers are not easy to spot. Sometimes their faint call is heard before they are seen. Their erratic movement make them a difficult subject to photograph.

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While working on a dead branch, this male red-bellied woodpecker really showed off it’s red head.

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Other local residents, as will as migrants from the north, have also entertained us in the last few days.

Tufted-titmouse, (Donna).

Carolina Chickadee, (Donna).

White-throated Sparrows can be found in Ohio in the winter but call the forests across Canada, the northeastern U.S., and the northern Midwest their summer home.

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A fox squirrel ran up the tree and hid just as I walked up causing my wife to miss a “good” picture. She had to make due with the image below.

***, (Donna).

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Winter along the Scioto River.

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This morning while standing in front of our church greeting incoming worshipers, a ruby-crowned kinglet flew into a nearby evergreen, paused for a moment as if to look my way, then flew off. Enchanted by what was an unusual occurrence, I had an extra big smile for the next group of parishioners. In nature the usual can also become enchanting, and in that enchantment, we may lose ourselves and in doing so find that we have become part of something much greater.  We wish everyone the happiest of holidays and a wonderful new year!

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Thanks for stopping by.

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A Rare Bird

From time to time during our walks close to home we see a rare bird. Two days ago we were excited to see an American Kestrel in an undeveloped area south of Duranceaux Park which is located on the west side of Griggs Reservoir. A particular treat as this small falcon has been in decline in recent years. As with many birds this is most likely due to the destruction of suitable habit. In years past, when more time was spent bicycling Ohio’s quiet rural roads, this small robin size bird was seen on a regular basis, sometimes in the middle of a “lunch” consisting of a field mouse, but always taking flight from the roadside power lines before one could get very close. If not perched, they were often seen hovering over an adjacent field waiting to pounce on unsuspecting prey. 

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***, (Donna).

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Much more common than the American Kestrel, a number of Red-tailed Hawks have been seen recently. 

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Some of the more usual suspects have also graced us with their presence, providing an affirmation that much is well with the world. We’re endlessly fascinated by their behavior as they go about the day making a living in the trees and low lying brush of Griggs Reservoir Park. 

Female Northern Cardinal

Male Eastern Bluebird, (Donna).

Red-bellied Woodpecker, (Donna).

Song Sparrow

Cedar Waxwing, (Donna).

Downy Woodpecker

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During this stark, seemingly lifeless, time of year it’s not always easy to be optimistic about what will be seen when heading into the woods. But even in December’s landscape we seldom return home with empty hearts.

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Thanks for stopping by.

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Thanksgiving

To get some exercise on a pleasant late November day and perhaps to see wildlife we wouldn’t if we just stayed in our immediate neighborhood, we decided to walk the length of Griggs Reservoir Park with only binoculars and lightweight cameras in tow. The binoculars would allow us to enjoy almost anything we happened to see but things photographed would have to be cooperative and very close.

Brown Creepers search for small insects and spiders by hitching upward in a spiral around tree trunks and limbs. They move with short, jerky motions using their stiff tails for support. Creepers have a high, warbling song; they also give a high, wavering call note that sounds similar to that of a Golden-crowned Kinglet. In the winter season, the species moves into a broader variety of forests and becomes much easier to find in deciduous woodlands. Ref: Cornell, All About Birds

Reflection, (Donna).

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We’ve spent a lot of time in this particular park and the adjacent reservoir marking the change of seasons and noting the different birds and other wildlife seen throughout the year. As a way of giving thanks we always carry a small bag useful for holding any trash found along the way, and it always there. There are the regular visitors to the park so there’s usually a social component to any walk taken as we affirm old acquaintances and sometimes create new ones. We pretty much know every inch of the park, the best places to see certain birds, what plants attract certain insects, as well as the location of various species of wildflowers.

Female Ruddy Duck, too far away for a good photo, (Donna). Females and first-year males are brownish  with a blurry stripe across the pale cheek patch. They are a diving duck that feeds on aquatic invertebrates, especially midge larvae. Ref. Cornell All About Birds

Sycamore

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A number of years ago when we first started visiting the park the goal wasn’t to make it special in our lives. It was just a convenient place to be in nature without investing more time and gas getting to areas further afield. In doing this we realized there would be things we wouldn’t see but the idea of keeping tabs on one relatively small green space had it’s appeal. We’ve never seen a black bear in the park, probably a good thing as it’s right in the middle of the city, but what we have seen over the the last few years, from Song Sparrows to a Red-throated Loon, and Gray squirrels to Mink, is simply amazing.

Fungi, (Donna)

At reservoir’s edge, a glacial erratic catches the shadow of a nearby branch.

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Now, this rather ordinary city park has become a part of us. A place of connectedness. Not separate. In some ways like a favorite easy chair, but in others, especially in the context of the larger sphere of nature, a small window into a world of beauty and wonder. A portal into the awareness of something larger than ourselves that in some fashion will live on long after us. A place where time spent has resulted in empathy not only for the endearing Golden-crowned Kinglet but also the robber fly. Each for at least part of the year makes a living in the park and calls it home. We have come to realize that all deserve a place to be and complete the tapestry of life.

A white duck tries to take a nap at waters edge.

Seed pods, (Donna).

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After six miles we arrived back at our starting point tired but with a deep sense of gratitude. Other than the sighting of a Ruddy Duck and a Brown Creeper and some of the usual suspects, it had been a quiet day. But in the mystery of late November light we had had the opportunity to be, under a towering Sycamore as it’s few remaining leaves defied the season, along the edge of the reservoir with the quiet dance of waves as they played with shoreline pebbles, and next to the massive trunk of an oak as it’s gnarly branches wrestled with the sky. We were rich in a enduring way that transcends any monetary measurement.

Park road in November light.

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Thanks for stopping by.

Beauty In Transitions

It’s hard to think of the period between autumn color and the arrival of colder temperatures and a land covered in snow, as anything other than a time of transition. Ohio’s late November sepia-tone landscape makes one wish for somewhere else, past or future. If we find ourselves walking along a wooded trail or stream our curiosity is challenged in ways not encountered as spring unfolds into the warmth of an endless summer day. Better to be home in a favorite easy chair with the warm glow of a fireplace, a cat curled up on your lap, and a good book as the season’s birds occasionally visit the feeder just outside a nearby window. But the magic of late November is that, surrounded by muted color, the endlessly varied dance of birds not present or as easily noticed during other seasons, is hard to ignore. 

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A window into the future, wintry bare branches reflect on the surface of a small pool.

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A year round resident, the cheerful Carolina Wren comes into it’s own as the landscape darkens in late November.

*** (Donna)

Tufted Titmice seem more common this time of year. Some migrants from the north?

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***(Donna)

A Red-winged Blackbird confuses us by it’s presence. Shouldn’t you be further south?

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In perhaps it’s last “voice”, a oak leaf graces the surface of a small stream.

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Few leaves obscure our view as we watch the comical journey of a White-breasted Nuthatch as it forages for food.

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A tidbit (perhaps a spider’s egg sack) is found, (Donna)

Woodpeckers are noticed at almost every turn, some of which are undoubtedly also northern migrants.

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker, (Donna)

Red-belied Woodpecker, (Donna).

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Before being caught by the wind and carried away, a lone Sycamore leaf catches the morning sun.

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Gray Squirrels are common and always easy to spot but they’re not always so busy eating.

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Almost invisible when trees are fully adorned with leaves the nervous movement of Golden Crowned Kinglets catches our eye.

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***(Donna)

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On  mudflats left behind as a nearby reservoir is lowered for the season, a solitary oak leaf comes to rest.

Oak leaf

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With feeders out, other birds brighten the day with their presence.

House Finch

American Cardinal

Blue Jay

Carolina Chickadee

But not far away, a Cooper’s Hawk waits.

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Autumn’s fading color comes to rest among stream-side rocks.

Scioto River landscape.

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In the chill of the morning, birds enjoy the river without complaint.

An American Robin takes a bath.

Cedar Waxwings stop for a drink.

Blending into the bark, unless your eye catches it’s movement, the Brown Creeper is almost impossible to spot.

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“Snowbirds”, the presence of Dark-eyed Juncos alert us of what is to come.

***(Donna)

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Transforming place, an ephemeral first snow blankets the ground.

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As a metaphor for life, the passing seasons, particularly early spring and late autumn, may have something to teach us when in the midst of life transitions we wish for somewhere else. Perhaps the key is to look closer, be open to the beauty of the present time and place, and then in that moment allow ones self to be caught in it’s embrace.

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Thanks for stopping by.

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A Autumn Notebook

I thought folks might enjoy a few glimpses of autumn near our home. The below images didn’t require travelling to distant places but instead reflect what was seen as nature spoke to us in the intimacy of our own “neighborhood”. Unlike the maple covered hillsides of Vermont, autumn in central Ohio, with it’s more subtle colors, speaks in a soft voice. Putting this post together I imagined a notebook where thoughts and impressions of the season would be written down and, pausing for a moment, contemplated.

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This path along the reservoir is walked many times during the year but only on one day did it look like this. 

Griggs Reservoir Park, (Donna)

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A quest for autumn migrants was momentary interrupted as we stopped to watch the bare branches of a Black Walnut “conduct the music of the sky”. (1)

Tree and clouds, Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park.

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In the canoe, fishing for over an hour without a bite, I started looking at the water’s autumn reflections. A unexpected catch.

Griggs Reservoir

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Something sacred, as if transported inside a gothic cathedral? Under a blue dome, we look through “panes” to colors beyond.

Griggs Reservoir

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On the water’s blank canvas of color, mallard art.

Griggs Reservoir

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Patterns in bark, leaves, and shadows, the endless allure of a Sycamore.

Griggs Reservoir Park

In the mystery, with their small voices, warblers made themselves known overhead.

Along the Scioto River, Griggs Reservoir Park.

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Just now, with the help of the faintest breeze, the water’s surface reinterprets.

Griggs Reservoir Park.

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With light and shadow the leaves of a mulberry play their tune.

Griggs Reservoir Park, (Donna).

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A quiet park road beckons us to travel into the magic of the moment 

Griggs Reservoir Park.

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Sculpted by the river, autumn graces the twisted shape of a tree at waters edge.

Scioto River, Griggs Reservoir Park.

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In defiance of the coming winter a Sycamore splashes the landscape with muted color.

Scioto River, Griggs Reservoir Park.

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With it’s own beauty, a leaf on the water’s surface takes us beyond what we think we know or perceive.

Griggs Reservoir

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A light rain enhances shape and color but brings with it a sense foreboding of what has been and what is to come.

Griggs Reservoir.

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The afternoon sun punctuates shoreline trees. We wish for it to not end.

Griggs Reservoir.

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Overhanging trees embrace the river with a warmth that betrays the coolness of the day.

Scioto River, Griggs Reservoir Park.

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Reflection on the water’s surface, an autumn impression.

Little Darby Creek, Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park.

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Sunny, not to cold, nice day for a picnic, but we’ve moved on.

Griggs Reservoir Park.

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An early morning hike graced with shafts of light and color.

Clear Creek Metro Park.

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Cold descends, days now short, and among dark shapes the few remaining leaves twinkle.

Hocking River, Clear Creek Metro Park.

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That one last leaf in the fall as winter’s cold grips the land has always been a romantic image for me. Perhaps it’s because although we should look forward to the promise of every season we should also never be too quick to let go.

“The Last Leaf”, Battelle Darby creek Metro Park.

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Thanks for stopping by.

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Note (1): The idea “conduct the music of the sky” was suggested to me by a friend when she looked at the photograph.

Having Done Their Good Work

In autumn,

having done their good work,

leaves celebrate

what has been and will come

and embrace the season

with shades of gold, orange and red.

Some hang on,

rattling faintly through wind and rain,

to punctuate the coming starkness,

others, explode in fiery color,

deserting branches overnight

to blanket the ground with their warmth.

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Beech Leaves, (Donna).

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Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

 

A Primal Experience

Later wishing for a more serious camera, I stuffed a small travel zoom into my pocket as I left the house just in case something of interest was spotted. Loading the 14′ Hornbeck and associated fishing equipment I was on a quest for central Ohio’s elusive Smallmouth Bass in the river near our home. The small camera was a concession. When fishing, it’s important not to be encumbered by “serious” photographic equipment. Either fish or photograph, it’s hard if not impossible to do both justice.

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A cloudy, cool, and quiet late October afternoon offered conditions where you would almost expect the fish to jump into the boat but even so it had been over an hour since two reasonable sized fish had paid attention to any of my offerings. I was thinking about calling it quits for the day. But perhaps just one more pass along the west bank of the river was in order. You never know.

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It was then that a small dark brown fury creature with a white chin was spotted enjoying a mid-afternoon snack. A Mink! As I moved closer it showed no intention of abandoning it’s meal, which turned out to be a recently deceased and very large Channel Catfish. It alternately glanced my way then pulled and tore at the hapless creature’s flesh each time backing away with a healthy mouthful.  A unambiguous reminder that in nature almost everything is dinner for something else. The Mink looked ferocious and seemed even larger when fully engaged with the catfish so I was glad to be in the canoe.

The catfish is considerably larger than the Mink. What caused it’s death is unclear. (Scioto River just below Griggs Dam)

The Mink may not have been the only creature that stopped by to enjoy the catfish.

There are also Coyotes, Racoons, Bald Eagles, and vultures in the area.

It’s hard to imagine any of these other creatures trying to horn in while the Mink worked on the carcass.

The Mink with it’s distinctive white chin.

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Over the years we have seen a number of these fascinating creatures along the shore of Griggs Reservoir. They usually move quickly with short pauses as they explore the shoreline rocks and exposed tree roots for their next meal and we are often in a moving canoe when one is seen. Getting a good picture has always been a challenge. Never has one stayed in the same spot for so long. The reasonably fresh catfish sushi was apparently just too enticing.

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Thanks for stopping by.

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Just Outside Our Door

Golden-crowned Kinglets are a favorite bird to observe this time of year as northern migrants move into central Ohio. Unlike warblers, some kinglets will spend the winter in the area. To date it had not been a good autumn for Golden-crowned Kinglet sightings.

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Yesterday as we left the house to visit local park with the intention of seeing these elusive little birds, and what ever else was lurking in the trees and bushes along the river, we noticed nervous movement in trees next to our driveway; and after closer inspection:

***, (Donna)

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***, (Donna)

***, (Donna)

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Entranced for almost an hour, we watched these small fascinating birds forage in the trees for insects, and in that time, without even trying, they transported us out of ourselves on a journey into the larger world of nature’s wonder.

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Thanks for stopping by.

A Big Buck

It promised to be a pleasant mid-October day with little wind. Cool 45F morning air was the price of admission as we started our paddle on a local reservoir. Seeking the sun’s warmth we headed for the western shore as the canoe moved through the still water with a graceful confidence. The outing was prompted by a favorable forecast and the realization that, given the time of year, one never knows how many nice day’s are left. Leaves still adorned trees with subtle hints of central Ohio’s fall color. In a month, should we be blessed with a equally warm day, branches would be bare the landscape brown and gray.

Exploring the shoreline of Griggs Reservoir.

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The west side of the long narrow reservoir is populated by numerous large homes set back (for the most part) a reasonable distance from the shore. A few small interspersed wooded areas provide a nice habitat for deer, beaver, mink and various species of birds. As we headed north, warblers, blue jays, and robins flitted about at waters edge in trees warmed by the morning sun, none cooperating for a photograph.

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However, we hadn’t gone far when a young male Wood Duck was spotted. It wasn’t sure which way to go as we approached and it’s ever changing direction caused it’s blue wing feathers to light up.

Immature male Wood Duck, (Donna).

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Other things were also seen during our paddle and as we briefly explored the north end of the reservoir on foot.

North end pull out, Kiwanis Riverway Park.

We watched this Downy Woodpecker spent quite a bit of time working on one particular tree, (Donna).

A warm October afternoon and a smiling Map Turtle, (Donna).

This Great Blue Heron had something to say, (Donna).

North end landscape, Kiwanis Riverway Park.

Fiery Skipper, one of the few butterflies seen, (Donna).

Field Sparrow, (Donna).

A beautiful White-crowned Sparrow, our first sighting of the season, Kiwanis Riverway Park, (Donna).

A pile of turtles enjoy the autumn sun, (Donna).

Previous frosty nights had done little to curb this Monkey Flower’s enthusiasm, Kiwanis Riverway Park.

One of the numerous Great Blue Herons that took flight during our paddle, (Donna).

A north end “paddlescape”

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We have seen our share of Whitetail Dear along the reservoir. In fact they are so common we hardly take notice. But at one point during our paddle what we saw stopped us in our tracks. At first, with only the tip of one antler visible, it wasn’t clear what it was, but as I slowed the canoe, and my wife got ready to shoot, it looked up.

The big buck, at least 14 points, White-tailed Deer, (Donna).

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We had never seen such a large buck and it made our day!

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Nineteen mile an hour winds will keep us off the reservoir today so perhaps I’ll actually get some things done around the house. Thanks for stopping by.

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Neighborhood Migrants

Warm days, now noticeably shorter, are giving way to colder nights with the landscape increasingly graced with the colors of autumn in Ohio.

Autumn reflection in central Ohio.

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During the past couple of weeks we’ve made a concerted effort to look for birds passing through Griggs Reservoir Park on their southern migration. We’ve avoiding the temptation to travel further afield thinking it would be fun just to see what is or isn’t passing through our “neighborhood”. There have been reports of birds that have eluded us, such as the Blackpoll and Yellow-throated Warbler, but all in all the effort has been rewarding.

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The Black-throated Green Warblers were very cooperative:

***, (Donna)

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***. (Donna)

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Only one Cape May Warbler was seen:

Female Cape May Warbler

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A fair number of Northern Parula Warblers were spotted:

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This Yellow-throated Vireo is not sure he wants to eat a stink bug:

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We had only one sighting of a Black-throated Blue Warbler:

Good enough to ID the bird but that’s it.

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The fairly common Yellow-rumped Warblers are often seen eating poising ivy berries:

***, (Donna)

 

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A Nashville Warbler was also part of the mix:

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One Ruby-crowned Kinglet tries it’s best to hide while another jumps right out and poses. To date more kinglets have been heard than seen.

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Contrasting with last year, this has not been a good year for seeing Black-crowned Herons on the reservoir. However, on a resent paddle we were rewarded:

Juvenile, (Donna).

Adult, (Donna).

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While looking for warblers a group of very active Blue Birds was hard to ignore:

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A young male Wood Duck has been hanging around the park for the last couple of weeks. By it’s association with a group of mallards it appears to think it’s one:

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We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge some of the other birds that have fascinated us while we looked for fall migrants.

An immature Red-tailed Hawk seemed curious about what we were up to.

Something has this Juvenile Red-bellied Woodpecker’s attention, (Donna).

A Mallard Duck, bathed in autumn light, swims across the reservoir.

A pair of Northern Flickers, (Donna).

A Tufted Titmouse acts cute like titmouse do, (Donna).

A White-breasted Nuthatch goes about it’s day.

One of the many Cedar Waxwings seen in the park in recent weeks.

A female Downy Woodpecker poses for a picture.

A Great Blue Heron strikes a graceful pose along the Scioto River, (Donna).

This Blue Jay has quite a mouthful, (Donna).

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It’s a dark gray rainy morning as I finish writing this so it’s hard to imagine what nature will offer in the coming days and this is the time of year when things tend to wind down. However, if past experience is any indication, it will only take another walk in the woods to again experience the magic. Thanks for stopping by.

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